Social media calls for supermarket boycott

AMY MAAS
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2014

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New Zealand shoppers have taken to social media to call for a boycott of Australian-owned Countdown in retaliation for Kiwi products being stripped from supermarket shelves across the Tasman.

Two major Australian supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, are backing an aggressive "Buy Australian" campaign and have pulled some New Zealand products sold under "house brand" labels.

Frozen foods, cheese and fresh vegetables are among the goods affected and cereals may follow.

Angry shoppers have taken to Countdown's Facebook page, calling for a national boycott of the supermarket as the same company owns Woolworths in Australia.

But removing popular Australian products such as wine, beer and sweets is not an option, according to Jo Jalfon, group communications manager for New Zealand-owned Foodstuffs.

"We don't discriminate when we're purchasing products for our shelves where they come from," she said. "Obviously we do prefer to provide our customers with New Zealand-made and grown products but with price and quality, when that isn't available we definitely wouldn't do it at the expense of customer choice."

Jalfon said Kiwis expected an international selection and while shelves would not be bare if Foodstuffs removed Australian products, "you definitely would notice the difference".

A spokeswoman for Australian-owned Progressive Enterprises, which owns Countdown, Supervalue, Fresh Choice and Woolworths in New Zealand, said Countdown's first preference was to source locally.

"It makes sense to do so, it supports our supply partners here and it's also important to our customers," she said.

"We've received some feedback from customers which we're listening to and taking seriously, as well as ensuring the Woolworths supermarket business in Australia is aware of the comments."

In the past year, 94 per cent of Countdown sales were from local suppliers and 100 per cent of all fresh chicken, lamb and pork sold was sourced from New Zealand farmers.

The spokeswoman said that Countdown sourced as much fresh fruit and vegetables as it could from local growers, however it sometimes needed to import produce due to supply and demand, seasonality and weather-related events like drought or frosts.

Kiwi shoppers in Australia have complained to Coles, with the company responding on Facebook that "ultimately it is the customer who decides what is on the shelves at Coles.

"We also ask customers what is important to them when choosing which products to buy and one of the things most customers tell us is that they want to buy Australian-made wherever possible.

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"Supporting local producers is something our customers are very passionate about so we think it's fitting we meet this demand."

Prime Minister John Key last week raised the issue with his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott.

Key said it was "undetermined yet whether it is a breach of the Closer Economics Relations (CER) trade pact.

"But whether it is legal or not it's arguably in my view a breach of the CER."

- Sunday Star Times

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